Greetings from Auckland, where I worked in the studio today on a new podcast with the MIT heavyweight *and one of my heroes) Sherry Turkle. More on that soon...but for right now, I recorded an early-morning half-hour voiceramble for you.
You can listen to it embedded here, and I also put it up on soundcloud (and it's downloadable there); https://soundcloud.com/amandapalmer/halfhour-voiceramble-for-patrons-march-18-2021
And for the first time ever....because this voiceramble felt more like a blog-in-spoken form than anything else, i texted Alex (beloved Alex, our British merch queen and also podcast transcriber) to see what he was up to and if he might wanna transcribe a voiceramble. And he was like SURE and so here we go....the world's first transcribed voiceramble for those who may not want to listen and would rather read, or for whatever reason. If you want more of these transcribed....tell me in comments. It keeps Alex in a job...:)
And I'm reading all comments anyway. Talk to me and tlel me how you are...what you think...I'm just here at the other end of the line feeling about as lost as everybody else I know.
Here's the transcript. Jesus it's long. It's 3600 words. That's what it used to take me about 6 hours to write when I was working on my book. At this rate, I could write a book a month no fucking sweat. But who fucking wants a book a month.....
Good morning, my loves.
I haven’t done a voice ramble in a long time, and I woke up with a head full of thoughts. And it’s been happening for a while now. I often wake up, and you might like to know this, sweet patrons. I often wake up, and my first thought is about you, and about wanting to do a voice ramble, and composing it in my head, and thinking about all the things I’d love to say, and…
And then, more often than not, I don’t. Because Ash wakes up, or I decide it would be better to keep my thoughts to myself and make a cup of tea, and some yoga, or read a book, or the ‘oh shit, I forgot to write that email’ to-do list comes crashing down into my brain, and…
And also, this is the main thing, and this is what I was thinking about this morning.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve stopped talking about. And about how I’ve lived a life where I shared so much. And what it feels like when the walls go up.
And I’m in a relationship with you, the grand You of the internet, the grand You of having 4,000, 10,000, 15,000 patrons, it doesn’t matter, there’s a relationship. And I think about it, and I consider it, and I try to be good at it… And I try to water, and feed it, and give it the care and attention, just like any relationship.
And I learned so much in my 20s the hard way, about talking about things that I shouldn’t. Getting angry emails or phone calls from my family, or my bandmate, or someone whose trust I sort of betrayed by saying too much. Sharing too much. Where I shouldn’t have. And I learned back then to withhold.
And all of this has been on my mind lately. But especially on my mind because of the conversation that I had yesterday with Sherry Turkle. And I’ll write about it a little bit maybe in this post, when I put this voice ramble up, but Sherry Turkle’s one of my heroes, she’s an incredible author, she’s in her 70s, and she’s been at MIT for… God, 50 years maybe? 40, 50 years? Working on, researching, and deeply trying to understand the relationship between people and machines. And that means mostly computers. From studying kids and how they interacted with Speak and Spell, and Simon, and early Apple IIe computers, and then everything else that tumbled along afterwards. And she’s an incredible human being, and she’s written some amazing books.
She’s gotten kind of a reputation as being a naysayer and a negative Nancy, but she’s really not, she’s just constantly ringing the alarm bell for what happens when computers and machines pull human beings away from each other, and pull us away from empathy, and compassion, and connectedness.
And the first book that I read by her was called Alone Together. This was maybe 12 years ago? I forget, I’d have to look it up. And it put into words, and really smart, academic words, this wasn’t just an opinion piece in a newspaper, this was a fucking powerhouse intellectual, very, very, very cap-and-robe person, who had done lots of research and studies, saying, ‘Hey, we gotta be careful, things are feeling a little bit fucked, and actually getting fucked, and here are the studies.’ And I loved this book, I gave it to a lot of people I knew.
Because I felt these things myself. I felt the anaemia in some of the connections of computing, and I don’t mean computing coding, but communicating through a screen, blogging, social media, all of that stuff, you get it.
So this is the roundabout way of saying, Sherry just wrote this incredible new book, it’s a memoir, it’s fucking dark as fucking fuck. She had a really… like we all have, on many levels, she had a really complicated childhood where, like every one of us, you grow up thinking your environment as a child is normal, because that’s the way you’re programmed. But she faced some really very bizarre stuff with her family. Including her father, when she was a teeny tiny baby, her father, she describes her father herself as a quack scientist. He sounds like he was very possibly kind of a psychopath, with wild ideas about all sorts of stuff, and he thought that he could disprove Einstein. He did experiments on her as a baby. Psychological experiments of deprivation, and used her as an experimental subject.
I mean, it doesn’t get any darker than that, on some level, for me.
Her mother figured it out, fled, tried to erase her father, and his existence. And Sherry went through basically being told to deny her father’s existence to the world. And her mother remarried, and Sherry had to take the guy’s name, but then she couldn’t legally change it, cos the guy couldn’t adopt her, so she had one name at school, but she had to tell everyone that she was Sherry Turkle everywhere in the real world, but then at school she was Sherry Zimmerman.
And then her mother hid the fact that she, her mother, had cancer, from the time Sherry was 5 years old, and her mother got a mastectomy, and never told her. Some fucked up stuff.
Where am I going with all this?
I talked to Sherry for two hours yesterday about our stories, and the human connection. It was really profound. And reading her book was actually really uncomfortable for me, it ripped the lid off a lot of stuff that I have not wanted to accept, or think about too much, because it… It doesn’t scare me. I guess… A lot of this relationship that I’ve built with a large crowd sometimes feels like it’s built on a darker need, and sometimes I worry about that, I suppose.
And to get back to the point of the ramble, and there’s never a point, by the way. I was gonna say there’s always a point, there’s never a point, there’s always 19 points. That’s why I love these, it’s a conversation with a friend, it doesn’t need to have a point. But it did have a point. And the point was… I have constructed a reality about myself, to you, by leaving increasingly more and more out, as I’ve gotten older.
I started blogging when I was 25. I’m almost 45. That’s like, 20 years of appearing on The Internet Show every day. But… when I was 25, I talked about almost everything. But there were, of course, still things that I left off the table. My sex life, my relationships, my intimate relationships, any troubles I was having in my friendships, or with my family. Those all got set aside. And I wouldn’t talk about my work problems, I wouldn’t talk about problems with my manager, problems with my staff, needing to fire someone. All of that just stayed to the side. But if you look back through 20 years of blogging, you’ll see a lot of blogs where I’m like, ‘Uhh, can’t really talk about it, but I’m having a really hard week!’
And that brings us to this year where, fuck, this has been the hardest year of my life, in many ways. Not that I have necessarily felt the worst, I don’t think you can beat 17, 18, 19, 20, ever. I don’t think it’ll ever get that dark again. And I have so many powerful tools, and resources in my soul that I didn’t have at 17.
But it’s been a fucking challenging year. I’ve been in New Zealand. Neil left. I had to take care of Ash. I had to learn how to be in a foreign country. I’ve had no prediction about where I’m gonna live. I’ve moved four times.
What do I wanna say?
I think what I wanna say is I haven’t been able to tell you most of it.
But also, there’s been a weirder thing. I’ve been able to describe the superficial situation that I’m in. I’m in New Zealand, it’s hard. I’m moving house again. The father of this child is many thousands of miles away. I don’t have any friends here. I’m lonely.
I can say those things.
I can’t talk about my relationship with Neil. I can’t talk about the struggles within my own family. I can’t talk about the breakdowns and makeups in my friendship circles.
But there’s been this darker thing, that I think I’ve maybe mentioned. And it’s something that I’ve never really experienced before, and it’s not wanting to describe the mundane, because of the pandemic.
Back when I went into lockdown in New Zealand, it really felt like my life was a car crashing into a wall. Even if a lot of other things hadn’t fallen apart yet, I didn’t have the energy to describe my mundane daily existence. I’m not even sure, I’d have to go back to April and look at some of my blogs, but I probably just said something like, ‘I’m surviving,’ ‘I’m trying to take care of this kid, and this house, and cooking some soup,’ ‘I’m in shock.’
I was in shock. I was in shock at a few levels, I was in a certain kind of shock when I realised that the world was heading into a pandemic, and I was locking down in a country that was foreign to me, where I barely knew anybody. And then I was in a much deeper level of shock when Neil left. And I’m still a little bit in shock.
But I stopped talking about, not the juicy, gossipy, dramatic details of my life, but about the normal stuff. Because the threads of connection between me and most of you started to feel, oh God, I don’t wanna say disconnected, I wanna say more like… sort of dangerous.
I didn’t know what it meant, as New Zealand came out of lockdown and the rest of the world went deeper in, I didn’t know what it meant to post pictures of Ash at a pizza party. I didn’t know what it meant to celebrate the fact that Ash could go back – oh God, and now I’m getting sad. I didn’t know what it meant to celebrate the fact that Ash could go back to school, and all of my friends’ kids were being separated, unable to play with each other, unable to go into a toy store, unable to… to connect with one another, and to connect with their relatives.
And meanwhile, I still have this fucked up thing happening to me. I’m not with my family either. I can’t see my friends either. But I’m in alien, non-COVID world land, where I’m making new friends, and Ash now has playmates that are just people he’s never met before, and he’s going to pizza parties, but not with people in New York, with new connections that I’ve made in New Zealand, and I’m just building a new scene from the ground up.
But I got enough feedback, and tetchiness, and wide-eyed awe, and almost even, not disbelief, but just the fucking weirdness of posting about my normal, mundane, oh my God, it’s such a relief that my inner life has fallen apart, but I’m here in New Zealand, and I can at least take my kid to a pizza party. I started to sort of get this feeling that maybe it was… not in bad taste, but that it was sort of… and again, it’s not quite dangerous, but that it was just too fucking weird. I can’t find another way of putting it.
And then I started realising that every time I posted a picture of Ash without a mask, in a crowd, at a water park, at a pizza party, I was having to do this thing on social media, which is I needed to add the context every time, in case someone stumbled into my Instagram feed saying, ‘Why the fuck aren’t these people wearing masks? Why would you put your kid in danger?’
So there were now two levels of weirdness: there was the level of weirdness of feeling like I was bragging and waving my amazing non-COVID life in the faces of people who maybe couldn’t emotionally afford to see it. And then there was the, every time I post a picture of Ash around people with no masks, or even just people with no masks, I also have to explain, hey, I’m in New Zealand, this place that locked down, and doesn’t have any cases of COVID, and has still had only about 20 COVID deaths, and there hasn’t been a case of COVID in my area since March. And telling that story over and over and over again in every post got exhausting.
And this sort of brings us to the Patreon, which is like, I have a different relationship with posting something to Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, than I do with posting something to Patreon, because in Patreon I feel like I don’t have to give the whole fucking context, it’s not social media. It’s my community. If you don’t understand, back up a couple posts, or just pretend you’re joining a dinner with friends and you’re sitting down in the middle of a story, but you don’t interrupt to say, ‘Hey, I’m coming into this dinner late, I need to know everything you’re talking about, Amanda can you start from the beginning?’ People just join a flow.
But even then, I just stopped telling the truth about my life. Which doesn’t mean I was lying, it just means I stopped sharing.
And some of it was also just getting… not pushback, but glazed eyes from my friends, and some other connections in the States, where I would sort of offer information about my life, and I would sort of get the hand. Do you know what I mean? Not ‘I don’t wanna hear it Amanda,’ not ‘Please don’t tell me about your great life.’ But we all do a dance with each other when we communicate, when we converse.
And one of the things that I’ve tried to learn to do, especially because I’ve been on the other side of it, because I’ve been in relationships with people on the spectrum where they don’t check in, they don’t ask, it’s not even that they don’t ask, they don’t put their feelers out to discover, do you want to hear this? Should I keep talking about this topic? I’ve been going on for 10 minutes, and maybe I should check in, and try to discover whether or not my listener wants to hear more about this topic. That’s a real mark of spectrum-ness, is not checking in with your listener, and not knowing that your listener checked out long ago, and is just desperately waiting for you to finish this monologue about… I won’t go spectrum-stereotype and say like, trains, but let’s just say for the sake of the stereotype, someone has been talking to you about trains for ten minutes.
So I try to check in with my listener. I try to look at their cues when I’m with a person in the flesh, you can tell if they are engaged by the way they hold their hands, by where their eyes go, what their breath sounds like, whether they’re asking follow-up questions. You can just feel if a person is engaged and curious, and you can feel when a person is uncomfortable, or checking out, or uninterested in what you’re babbling on about.
And there’s a different kind of feelers on the internet, and I’ve learned to speak that language. In a sense, being on the internet for 20 years, and having a blog, and learning how to speak to a 10,000-headed hydra in a conversation that’s via text through a screen, or very occasionally through mediums like this, like voice, or video… you learn how to understand, and respond to, your internet conversation partner. Put it that way.
I can’t wait to send this voice ramble to my friend Manta, cos he’s gonna fucking love this one, this is right up his alley. I’ll send this to Sherry too, I think she’ll appreciate it. This is the shit she studies all day long at MIT.
And I feel like what I learned, May, June, July, August, September, October, into November, December, now, January, February, March, I’ve been here a year. I came out of lockdown in May, more or less. I’ve been out of lockdown more or less for going on a year. Everyone else I know has been more or less in it. And I had to learn how to have a conversation. It sounds really dark to say it, but a conversation through the bars.
My community was locked in a particular kind of cage, and I hit the jackpot, and won the country pandemic lottery. And I don’t mean to imply that people’s lockdowns have been terrible, and that people have been imprisoned, and watch me get yelled at on Twitter all week for using the wrong metaphor, but that’s sort of what it feels like. You learn how to converse.
I have a friend back in the States whose boyfriend wound up, shockingly, in prison. No one saw that one coming. And I imagined her going to visit him, and learning how to converse in that environment, through those plastic visiting walls, with people observing. I don’t know. You learn how to have conversations in a hospital. You learn how to have conversations on a screen. We’ve learned how to have conversations on the phone. We listen for different cues. We try to understand each other through whatever filters appear, and are put up.
And I have tried to be a good partner to you over this year, while trying, and having to, protect myself. And also while trying, I think, to protect my friends, my family. From what? I don’t know. From my uncareful-ness, or gracelessness around my privilege of being in New Zealand.
I think that’s what I’m trying to say.
It’s been really weird, you guys.
I still don’t know how to talk about what’s happened. What’s happening.
I’ve also had so little time, I’ve been so busy with Ash. I’ve had so many things I’ve wanted to say, so many times, so many times every day. Reflections, and stories. So many things have happened here, and I’ve wanted to write the story, and when to write it just never appeared, because the mundane work of the day, and of cooking the meal, and doing the dishes, and falling into bed, and waking up the kid, and getting him to school, and answering the urgent texts and emails, and then rinse and repeat, and rinse and repeat, just feels like it’s been going on for a year. It has been.
And gone are the days where I would stay up til 3 in the morning and work on a blog and a story for six hours. Spending six hours to write a blog about the amazing thing that happened to me that day. That’s what I did in my 20s, and my 30s, before I had a kid.
I miss it.
I miss it. I miss telling you the story of my life. I wanna do it more.
Maybe I’ll do more voice rambles. Cos you know what? This blog would have taken me fucking two hours to write. I speak a lot faster than I type. And I also think I talk different than I type. I know I do.
I love you.
I love all of you.
I’m gonna get up.
I’m staying at Lucy Lawless’s house, by the way, in Auckland, tonight. I did this podcast with Sherry Turkle this morning, and Lucy sort of became my mama bear in New Zealand, and she was one of the first people to take me in after lockdown. And now, when I need to be in the city, I stay at her house.
Sherry has a great phrase in her book, she talks about being ‘home hungry’ and ‘family hungry.’ And I’m always on the road, out on the road, I’m always ‘home hungry,’ and ‘family hungry,’ and being able to walk into Lucy’s house, and dogs, and kids, and kids coming back from college, and fish, and books, and messes everywhere, and smells of cooking in the kitchen. Money can’t buy that. That’s what I always want, is to be in a home.
That’s been super hard this year.
So that’s where I am. I’m going back into the city, the central city today, in Auckland, to record a podcast for the Rubin Museum, which is this great Buddhist museum in New York, and they’re doing a podcast series, and they asked me if I would do a talk about grief, and survival, and mindfulness, and I didn’t wanna say no to that. So I’m doing that, and then I’m getting on the ferry, and going back to my little island.
And I will tell you more about it. I promise.
I wanna tell you.
I wanna tell you about my life.
And I’m going to do it.
I’ve missed you.
I love you.
Boy, this has been a long one.
Time to get up.